Member Weeks Radio Drama: How ‘I Love Lucy,’ ‘Gunsmoke’ and Other Shows Began

Real-life husband and future co-star Desi Arnaz with “My Favorite Husband” stars Lucille Ball and radio husband Richard Denning.

There was a time when mom and dad Piper on the “Couple Next Door” had first names, when “Gunsmoke’s” Marshal Matt Dillon and “Johnny Dollar” had different names, when famous filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock directed “Suspense” and when the “Great Gildersleeve” sold girdles instead of city water.

These and many other surprises are revealed when 97.9 WHAV FM presents “How They Began” for seven nights beginning Sunday, Sept. 15, at 10 p.m. Never-broadcast “audition” episodes and rare pilots are heard during this special week of WHAV’s “If You Believe” drive for monthly members. Start your monthly membership with online payment or use the “Bill Me” option here or by calling 978-374-1900 weekdays. If you’re already a current member, thank you for your support of Greater Haverhill’s only public radio station.

The audition script for what would become “Yours Truly Johnny Dollar” used another name, “Yours Truly Lloyd London.” Seemingly at the last minute—and possibly to avoid confusion with the famous insurer Lloyds of London—the name was crossed out. Dick Powell played Johnny Dollar only on the unaired pilot, which is heard Sunday night.

In 1927, Hitchcock found moviemaking success with his silent film, “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog.” In a sense, the soundtrack came only when CBS asked the public during July 1940 to judge whether “Suspense” should become a new radio series. The pilot aired as part of a series called “Forecast.” Hear it Monday at 10 p.m. with an encore airing at 1 a.m.

Lucille Ball and Richard Denning perform in “My Favorite Husband.”

You know the theme: A zany wife played by Lucille Ball and her exasperated husband trudge through crazy antics each week. It wasn’t “I Love Lucy” at first, but its radio predecessor, “My Favorite Husband.” Before Ball’s real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, took the role, Lucy played Liz and her husband wasn’t a bandleader, but rather a banker named George, played by Richard Denning. The radio show from 1948 led to 1950s television phenomenon. Hear the audition at 10 p.m., Wednesday, and repeated at 1 a.m.

The name Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve was first introduced on a radio program called “Fibber McGee and Molly” during the fall of 1939. “The Great Gildersleeve” came into his own as the key character in one of the earliest “spin-off” shows in 1941. Hear the audition program Wednesday night when it was proposed as a summer replacement show.

Eve Arden always played the title role in “Our Miss Brooks.” The cranky principal, Osgood Conklin, popularized by Gale Gordon of Lucy fame, though, wasn’t the first to play the character. Hear the first Conklin actor and forgetful landlord Margaret Davis played by others Thursday night.

Peg Lynch invented the situation comedy concept with “The Private Lives of Ethel and Albert” as a filler program for Albert Lea, Minn. radio station KATE. It moved with her to several other local stations and was finally picked up for a national network run in 1944 when Life Savers candy magnate Edward Noble bought NBC’s Blue Network (later ABC).  Those early shows were not preserved, but hear episodes from 1947 Friday night. Incidentally, a decade later, Lynch lost the rights to the name “Ethel and Albert” when she moved to CBS. When the “Couple Next Store” debuted, everyone assumed they were Ethel and Albert, and Lynch skipped first names altogether for the series’ run.

By now, millions have seen Marshal Matt Dillon carry out the law on television’s “Gunsmoke”—either when the series first aired on television or in reruns on networks like MeTV. However, few realize his character started out as “Mark” Dillon when the program auditioned for radio in 1949. James Arness is known for portraying Dillon on television and William Conrad on radio, but Michael “Rye Billsbury” tried out for the show first.


Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: “Milford Brooks III,” Sunday, 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.


Suspense: “The Lodger,” 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.


My Favorite Husband: The Coopers celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary, 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.


Great Gildersleeve: Gildy Arrives in Summerfield, audition program, 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.


Our Miss Brooks: The New Principal, 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.


Ethel and Albert: Teddy bites Mrs. Bulock, 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Saturday, Sept. 21

Gunsmoke: “Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye,” Saturday, 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.

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